Review | Prince Lestat, Anne Rice

21412673The Vampire Chronicles have always been my favourite among Anne Rice’s books, so I was thrilled when she announced a return to it with Prince Lestat. To be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve read a Vampire Chronicles book, and while I vaguely remember reading Queen of the Damned (referenced a lot in this book), I remember nothing of the story. So parts of this book did confuse me, but overall, there was just enough backstory provided that I could figure it out.

In Prince Lestat, Rice not only re-introduces us to the Brat Prince, she also takes us deep into the very mythology of her vampires. As such, the book feels much larger than the story of its titular character. The story travels through time and among various points of view, and we learn a lot about how vampires came to be and how fragile their existence as a species really is.

The story is about the vampire world in crisis — a mysterious Voice speaks to select vampires, commanding them to burn seemingly random groups of vampires around the world. It’s vampire genocide, and no one seems to know why it’s happening or how to stop it. The Voice also contacts Lestat, though appears more interested in conversing with him than in commanding him. Lestat himself is his usual dashing, seductive self, though with a lot more pathos now than usual. I love the scenes with Louie and Armand, mostly because I remember them from Interview with a Vampire, and it was sweet to see how much Lestat still cares for Louie.

There are a lot of characters and their flashbacks, and it’s impossible to keep track of all of them, or remember how or if I’d ever known them from a previous book. As a result, I didn’t really care about any individual character, except for Lestat, Louie and Armand. I did become fascinated by the mythology, and by the eventual explanation of what and who the Voice is. I’m not sure how much I liked the resolution, but it did feel right.

I remember reading Interview with a Vampire years ago, and being absolutely spellbound by the language and the story. Anne Rice, at her best, is a master of literary seduction. Prince Lestat falls somewhat short of that mark, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

01artsbeat-murakami-articleInline“The library was even more hushed than usual.” So begins this beautiful, haunting tale. It’s a masterful opening line — atmospheric, evocative, and for this reader, pregnant with promise. What wonders lie within a library “more hushed than usual”?

In The Strange Library, these wonders are dark indeed. A boy visits the library for an assignment and encounters a “little old man” who imprisons him in the basement and forces him to read. “Because brains  packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why,” explains the old man’s reluctant assistant, a sheep man. “They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

The story then follows the boy’s attempt to escape, aided by the sheepman and a mysterious, voiceless girl. The question of whether or not he succeeds feels almost inconsequential. The entire narrative feels like a fevered dream — the best of Murakami distilled into a child’s fairy tale.

The Strange Library is, in a word, beautiful. I’ve long been a fan of Chip Kidd (I even bought Murakami’s 1Q84 in hardcover for Kidd’s delicate tissue layered cover), and Kidd’s work in this volume is beyond words. The mere experience of opening the book feels like opening a present. And the illustrations throughout enhance the dreamscape Murakami has created, without giving anything away.

Murakami’s language as well deserves praise, as does Ted Goossen’s translation. The cadence is hypnotic, almost seductive, lulling the reader into a space where sheep men exist and the state of the moon determines one’s fate. It’s a quick read, but I hesitate to call it an easy one. I don’t think I quite understood what I read, and I mean that in the best possible way. There’s so much more to this story than the actual narrative, and Kidd’s mysterious illustrations as well hint at a universe beyond the page.

The young boy in the story sets out to research taxes in the Ottoman Empire, and ends up the star of a supernatural adventure. So too will the reader of this text set out to read a short, illustrated fable, and realize that so much of the story still lies in the white space. I will definitely have to re-read this one.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

20819685How can I even begin to talk about David Mitchell’s The Bone ClocksTouted as Mitchell’s most ambitious, most “Mitchell-esque” novel ever, this massive beauty of a book kept me enthralled for an entire weekend. I devoured this book, unable to put it down. I took it with me as my sister and I went around Toronto, lugging the 600+ pages just for the briefest snippets stolen on the subway, or the blissfully long wait for a movie to begin… and the weight was so worth it.

First: major, major kudos to Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday for this beautiful cover. All respect for the UK cover, but this one has such ethereal beauty that I would encourage purchasing a copy just for the cover art (something that in the past, I’ve only really suggested for Chip Kidd covers).

Then, the story itself is a series of layers that spans about a century, with all of the stories delicately, intricately intertwined. I wish I were more familiar with Mitchell’s body of work, as I’ve heard he includes a lot of characters from previous books in this story, and it would have been pretty mind-blowing to recognize them as they appeared. The story begins with fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes, who runs away from home after an argument with her mother. As a child, she used to hear what she called “the radio people,” mysterious figures who we barely understand till much later in the book. A psychologist “cures” Holly of these visions, but unfortunately, she can never truly escape. The story follows her journey, and the lives of the people she touches — a Cambridge scholarship boy, a war journalist unable to connect with his family, a middle-aged writer who goes too far in beating down his rival, and so on. Each of these figures narrates a section of the story, and each of them encounters “the radio people,” at times with horrifying results.

The story reminds me of Stephen King’s books, with its creepy, surreal feel, and also of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life in its epic sweep yet intimate tone. While I felt that Atkinson’s Life After Life fell short of its promise, Mitchell holds the narrative together well, and I found The Bone Clocks to be a much better constructed book. The book jacket describes the novel as “kaleidoscopic” and that’s a great way to describe it. Every time I felt like I was just beginning to grasp the story, something else happens, and it always felt like I was just glancing off the edge of what the story was really about.

Around three quarters of the way into the novel, we finally learn what the mysterious radio people are about, and the story settles pretty firmly into supernatural thriller mode. We learn about an age old battle between good and evil, with Holly and the other characters merely innocent pawns. I was expecting the stakes to be somewhat higher and the battle to be somewhat more epic, but I still love how all the threads came together, especially the significance of the image on the US cover.

My only real disappointment with this book was the final section. I’m sure Mitchell had his reasons for extending the story that far into the future, but after such a fantastical, epic, sweeping narrative in the previous sections, this one just felt like a letdown. It was a return to a feeling of reality, and a way to tie up remaining loose ends, and I just felt about it like I did about the epilogue of Harry Potter.

Still, overall, a beautiful, fantastic story. I love David Mitchell’s Ghostwrittennumber9dream and Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet — a wide range of stories that demonstrates how versatile this author isThe Bone Clocks, by many accounts, is his most ambitious yet, and in true David Mitchell form, he pulls it off with flair.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.